An Uncanny Valley

Wife being back at work is strange. It has necessitated another series of mental adjustments. Some expected, some not so much.

It’s reintroduced some structure into our lives. The morning and evening routine has returned. I make her tea and send her off to work. I have dinner ready when she comes home. And having time to myself means that I can spend more time cleaning and, also, because the apartment is isn’t quite as full, that mess isn’t being so rapidly produced.

I have some more time to work on dinner.

That sort of thing.

And this structure is good. It does, however, contain a couple of stress points. While she is at work, I’m still under the red alert. This doesn’t make me bitter but I can see how it might do that to a person. For me, this situation enhances two things that pull in totally opposite directions and creates the strange sensation: The Uncanny.

The first pull is, of course, the feeling that life is getting back to normal. But this feeling creates complacency. You want to rush out and get back to normal with life. And this is exactly what we are being warned by the health authorities not to do. They say it every day. Strengthen distance. We listen. We obey.

This pull to normal is met by an equal pull away from it. One of Wife’s nightmares is that she could get a kid sick. It’s a lot of pressure. Her school has taken a variety of measures, in line with the guidelines, to prevent this from happening. Social distancing, space between desks, masks and hand-washing at all time, temperature checks of students and staff, constant cleaning, so on and so forth. I try to tell her — just follow the rules, do as instructed, and it will all be fine. If such a terrible thing were to happen, it was unavoidable. It’s not as if we’re clubbing in Gangham, going to church meetings, or failing to observe instructions. We listen. We obey.

We’re doing what we’re told and we’re doing the best we can!

I’m pulled tight between these things. Her pressure is also pressure put on me. Because she’s out, I have to be even more in. The larger societal drama of flattening the curve to protect the front-line workers is now being played out in our specific household. I have to limit my exposure to keep her safe and, by proxy, the children she works with safe. It’s a great and direct motivation. Far from eroding my will to fight, seeing myself as an important node in a direct and disastrous line of transmission has strengthened my fighting spirit. I’m good with that. It’s clear and comprehensible.

The difficult part is having both of these things –the return of routine and the increased importance of staying inside– in one’s head at the same time. It creates the same sense of irreality that I felt in early days, before her school shut down in February. The feeling of — Have I just lost my fucking mind here? Am I the only one doing this? Is this a trick?

What seems to help is getting her updates and stories from the outside world. Not the normal ones. These normal things don’t help at all. They only enhance this weird sensation. But updates about the abnormal things? These help. The strong measures being taken in the classroom, the reduced amount of students, the weird things, all of these things help me know that I am not quite so alone or abnormal as I sometimes feel.

And this sort of relief wasn’t planned. It was discovered. At first, she would tell me about her day in pretty much the normal way and this was a bit stressful for me. I was happy for her but I also felt almost deranged when hearing about these things. But when she started telling me about the odd things, I relaxed. From there, was able to realize why.

We’re living in an uncanny valley.

Hearing about The Normal is a bit like seeing a dollhouse in perfect condition sitting in the rubble of a forest fire. It’s like seeing a shape absurdly out of touch with its environment. It’s the shock of the familiar and it’s not quite as comforting as you might think. It’s uncanny.

It’s strange to see this sensation now playing in reverse. At the start of this, it was uncanny to know what was going on here in Busan and to see North America acting like nothing was happening. It was like, how are they still having rallies and talking about sports? What are those people doing at that show, that club, going to that movie? Are they crazy or am I?

Now, Korea seems almost normal because it has a lot of open businesses and some schools opened under strict guidelines. I can still go get a haircut. I probably should.

But this ability to go get a haircut when places I know and people I love are under such strict instructions feels so incredibly strange. Knowing we might all change position again in the coming weeks feels strange. Trying to reconcile the familiar with the strange feels strange. Watching the whole thing running backwards feels strange. Seeing the familiar and the strange change places, and then heave themselves back into each other feels strange. Watching and riding timelines as they collapse and converge and diverge and knot back together –here, a bow, there a noose, where the snare?– feels strange. I feel fucking strange. And I feel a little queasy. But I’m good with that. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the uncanny. At least, I might. And I might need to be maybe.

You might need to be maybe too.

Because certainty? Yes and no? We’re in some valley in between those answers. Climbing up on side while sliding down the other. We’re in a world a maybes. Maybe we always were. And this queasy feeling? It may just be the feeling we have to get used to.

Fucked if I know.

Hail Satan!

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